Southeast Asia Lags Behind in Maternity Leave Benefits and Why This Should Change

On average, Southeast Asia (SEA) offers around 12 to 13 weeks of maternity leave – below the minimum standard suggested by the International Labour Organization (ILO).



In light of the global growing trend of both parents working in a family, more women begins to swap aprons with laptops as they juggle career building and children raising.


As a result, longer paid maternity leave is a highly sought-after benefit for working mums worldwide.


Let’s take a look at the definition of maternity leave:

Maternity leave is the mandatory minimum number of calendar days that legally must be paid by the government, the employer or both. It refers to leave related to the birth of a child that is only available to the mother; it does not cover parental leave that is available to both parents.

While there has been a shift towards increasing maternity leave periods that go further than the 14-week standard suggested by ILO, SEA continues to lag behind in maternity leave benefits compared to Europe.


For example, the United Kingdom offers 52 weeks, 39 of which are partially paid; Ireland offers 42 weeks, of which 26 are paid at a flat rate of 230 euros per week; and Italy offers 22 weeks, all of which are paid at 80% of earnings.


As shown in the chart below, aside from South Korea, which extended the maternity leave from 13 weeks to 1 year since 2018, the rest of the SEA countries only offer an average of 12 to 13 weeks as paid leave.


Aside from the US, Papua New Guinea is the only country left in the world that still don’t guarantee paid maternity leave.


At 10 weeks, Hong Kong’s maternity leave is one of the shortest in the world, and it hasn’t changed for 48 years. The good news is that the city’s statutory maternity leave will be increased from 10 weeks to 14 weeks, following the Chief Executive’s announcement in October last year.


While the initiative has been implemented among civil­-servants with immediate effect, a source said they were expecting the bill would only be tabled in late 2019 and would be passed before July 2020.




Here are some key benefits of longer maternity leave:


1. Reduction in child mortality


Data analyzed from 300,000 live births in 20 low- and middle-income countries found that longer maternity leave is associated with lower infant mortality (Nandi, A. et al. [2016]. Increased Duration of Paid Maternity Leave Lowers Infant Mortality in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Quasi-Experimental Study). For each month of additional paid leave, there was a reduction of nearly eight infant deaths per 1,000 live births.


2. Direct benefits to employers


Research shows that women who receive stronger benefits are more productive and more loyal to their employers, which contributes to reduced turnover and absenteeism. These mothers report higher job satisfaction, feel more positive about the company, and intend to make the company their long-term employer.


3. Reduce Government's healthcare expenditures


For governments, recommended breastfeeding practices reduce healthcare expenditures, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars due to fewer prescriptions and hospitalizations. Low breastfeeding rates, however, are associated with significant costs. A study on the Cost of Not Breastfeeding (Walters D, et al [2018]. The Cost of Not Breastfeeding: Global Results From A New Tool) shows that inadequate breastfeeding in the Philippines is attributed with 8,924 child deaths per year, US$16.3 million in health system costs, US$1.4 billion in future economic costs from maternal and child mortality, and US$2.3 billion in economic losses resulting from cognitive impairment.


Source: Medium


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